Since July, New York’s Museum of the Moving Image has been taken over by Muppets, Fraggles, and inhabitants of Sesame Street.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibit, curated by Henson archivist Karen Falk, also features a diverse selection of Jim Henson’s greatest creations, some of which have been eclipsed by the success of his most popular puppets.
Below is a list of eight things you may not have known about the puppet master and his puppets, culled from time spent at the exhibit and a special roundtable the museum hosted with Henson’s friends and family.
1. Jim Henson was nominated for an Oscar.
No, not for “The Dark Crystal;” Henson’s trippy (and decidedly adult) 1965 live action short “Time Piece” was nominated for best Live Action Short. The film, which anchors MOMI’s Henson exhibit, features Jim Henson as a man going through his day with percussive jazz soundtrack and surrounded by surreal happenings.
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2. Henson was often inspired by jazz.
“Time Piece” showed this off, but an early Muppets clip with a Kermit prototype visualizes scatting in an absurd little sketch:
3. And he liked country music too…
Evidence: The Country Trio.
4. Henson did a lot of commercial work.
The popular Muppet Rowlf began as a character in a series of playful Canadian commercials for Purina Dog Chow.
And one of the earliest commercial uses of Henson’s puppets was in commercials for Wilkins Coffee.
5. Before “The Muppet Show,” the Muppets had a segment on Saturday Night Live, but it never worked out.
During the first season of SNL, the Muppets were regular perfomers, but as Muppeteer Fran Brill remembered at the MOMI roundtable, the writers never got the hang of writing for their furry friends. She quoted one frustrated writer saying, “I don’t write for felt.”
6. There are some things that make some puppets better than others.
On being asked what makes some puppets better than others, the MOMI roundtable responded…Puppeteer Fan Brill: “being light.” Puppet designer and Executive Director of The Jim Henson Legacy Bonnie Erickson: “reproducibility.” President of the Jim Henson Foundation Cheryl Henson: “clarity of character.”
7. Sesame Street writers are mindful of stereotypes.
According to Fran Brill, the puppeteer behind Zoe, writers were afraid to give Zoe a doll in more than one sketch for fear of making a stereotype out of the female Muppet.
8. The much-anticipated Fraggle movie might be happening.
Henson’s daughter Cheryl noted, “There’s a wonderful script for a ‘Fraggle Rock’ movie. I really hope it will happen. My sister Lisa is running the production company in LA, and if they can make it, they will.”